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Productive Afternoons in Charlotte Mason Homeschooling
I love how, with the Charlotte Mason approach, you’re done with lessons by lunch time. Younger students in her schools were done by 11:30, middle students by 12:00, and older students by 1:00.
It’s so refreshing to focus head-down for a few hours and then relax. The variety of subjects covered during those hours helps the time pass briskly. Effort is required—most definitely—but assignments are not dragged out.
Long hours too often inadvertently instill a habit of dawdling, because the student’s brain is either on overload and fatigued or completely numbed by the tediousness of it all. Brisk, full attention on a variety of subjects keeps the lessons moving along and the student’s mind engaged.
Did I mention I love having lessons done by lunch?
Some people wonder if this approach can possibly be as effective as all-day lessons. Absolutely, because full attention is required for short periods of time. You can get a lot done in a short time with full attention.
Most traditional classroom settings require longer time periods for classes because about half of the time is spent on classroom management: repeating instructions, addressing questions (sometimes the same ones repeatedly), herding the herd. One-on-one instruction is much more efficient. You don’t have to wait on all the others in the class.
So don’t be fooled into thinking that doing a morning of homeschool studies covers only half as much as a whole day of classroom studies. Such is not the case. If you follow Charlotte’s methods and require full attention, you can accomplish plenty during those morning hours—at least as much, and possibly more, than a traditional classroom.
So, finishing lessons before lunch is a blessing, on one hand, because it doesn’t overtax your child, it encourages a habit of full attention, and it gives a sense of accomplishment. School doesn’t drag on all. day. long.
On the other hand, finishing lessons before lunch can also be a challenge. What do the kids do all afternoon? Sit on the couch, or stare at a screen, and eat potato chips?
No. While afternoons don’t have formal lessons, they should still contain plenty of opportunity for learning, as well as time for rest and play.
We want to use those afternoon hours to continue to encourage good habits. And we also should use that time to train our children to be producers, not just consumers. We want them to learn to take initiative in creating and learning and exploring wholesome pastimes in their free time, rather than depending on others, including technology, to merely entertain them.
Some afternoon activities will be parent-directed—for example, supervising chores or arranging for any organized events or activities—but much of the afternoon activity should be at the child’s initiative.
Don’t feel pressured to entertain your child. That’s not your job. And Charlotte reminded us that “He who is most played with by his elders has little power of inventing plays for himself” (School Education, page 37). Provide plenty of raw materials where the child has access to them, and encourage him to use them. But don’t feel like you have to be the entertainment director all afternoon.
What kinds of things could your children do? I’ll give you about 50 ideas here, and at the end I’ll tell you where to find more.
It helps me to think of them in categories.
Use the afternoons to do music lessons or to practice for music lessons—whether on an instrument or voice. Your child could also explore different musical instruments on his own. Or compose her own song and record it. Music offers many opportunities for personal learning.
It works great to do your nature study after the formal lessons are done. That way you can take as much time as you want to outside. You can also encourage each child to pursue any special interests in nature; for example, birdwatching or dog training or rock collecting. One child might plant and tend a flower garden; another might work on outdoor survival skills, such as using a compass, tying knots, and constructing shelters. Obviously, some of these ideas will resonate with younger children and some with older children, but plenty of time outdoors is a great goal to have for productive afternoons.
Sports and Recreation
Don’t feel like you have to belong to some organized team sport in order to do sports and recreation in the afternoons. You could, but you don’t have to. In fact, there’s a lot to be said for encouraging your child toward individual sports and recreation activities that can be enjoyed into adult life without having to depend on others to participate too. For ideas, just remember all the simple pleasures: flying kites, jumping rope, playing four-square, hiking, sledding in the winter, walking the dog, fishing. And many of these happen outdoors as well, which is a plus.
You will have regular handicraft lessons scheduled in your school day to introduce the techniques for knitting, crocheting, woodworking, etc. and get projects started. But afternoons can be used to practice those techniques and work on finishing the projects or tackling bigger ones. If you team up with a local charity, you can use afternoons to work on handicraft projects for them. Our family worked with a local charity that provided handmade baby layettes for hospitals. Once a month we went to the charity location and picked up the yarn and patterns. Then all month, the children worked on knitting the baby booties and sweaters and hats in the afternoons. The next month we would drop off the finished items and pick up more yarn. Teaming up with local charities is a great way to encourage your children to be producers, not just consumers, and to use their hands to bless others. Afternoons are a great time to work on those handicrafts.
Just like handicrafts, the scheduled lessons during the school day can introduce certain techniques and give some practice in using them, but afternoons can be used for further practice and for creating the student’s own projects in painting or sculpting or drawing.
Consider using time in the afternoons for the children to complete chores around the house or to learn new ones. Charlotte’s students had regular work to do in her teacher training center to help keep the facilities clean and maintained. It’s so important that our children learn and practice the skills necessary to keep a household running smoothly, and it’s much less stressful if they can gain those skills a little at a time while they are still living in our homes. Teaching them and giving them regular practice in mending, cooking, laundry, baking, car maintenance, landscaping, or even plumbing or electrical repair (depending on the age of the child) will help them be equipped to transition to life on their own someday. And afternoons provide the time for that intentional equipping.
You can also use afternoons to work on larger home projects, like cleaning the garage, scrubbing the porch, washing the car or vacuuming the inside of the car, or painting a room.
Friends and Family
Afternoons should also be a time to connect with others or just enjoy your own family’s company. Connecting with other people—of all ages—is important; and so is being content at home. Use your afternoons to foster both. You could arrange a park day with friends or stay home and do tea time with poetry. Older children can read to younger siblings. Institute a mandatory rest time during a portion of your afternoons. You might task one or two of the children to come up with a centerpiece for the table for supper. They could find nature objects to use or gather other items to arrange. Afternoons also make a great time to focus on family traditions. Use the afternoon to plan or decorate or prepare or enjoy a celebration for someone or something that is important to your family.
Want more? Oh, I’ve got more!
Hobbies and Personal Interest
Children can use afternoons to explore their personal interests. Those hours are great for leisure reading or writing in a personal Book of Mottoes, or commonplace book, or even catching up on entries in an individual’s Book of Centuries. Hobbies, like photography, can be pursued. There’s also plenty of time for creative writing. Some children might even like to create and publish a family newspaper, working on it during some afternoons. They can play board games or invent their own board game. And don’t forget to have some time to practice the foreign language that you are learning. The children can listen to stories or songs in that language and practice carrying on conversations during the afternoons.
Volunteer Work and Ministry
But not everything should be focused on personal interests. It is just as important to provide opportunities for service, both to neighbors and to those in your church family. You might volunteer to work at a local food pantry or arrange a weekly game date with an elderly neighbor. You might use an afternoon to cook and deliver a meal to someone with a new baby or go clean their house for them. If you have first responders in your neighborhood, take an afternoon to bake some treats for them and deliver it with a note of appreciation and encouragement. Afternoons are a great time to do yard work for an elderly or sick neighbor. Ministry and service are an important part of a Charlotte Mason education.
Some of your older children may be able to earn money doing part-time jobs in the afternoons. Those could range from occasional baby sitting to regular lawn mowing to set hours at a local or family business.
Errands and Appointments
Of course, you can use afternoons to run errands or go to doctor appointments. Better to schedule those in the afternoon than to steal the time from morning lessons. But if you have a choice, try not to schedule those every afternoon. Now, I realize that some of that decision depends on your family’s situation. If you or your children have medical needs that you have to deal with, of course you will have more doctor appointments. Do what you need to do. And remember that you can use the time in the car to listen to music or to sing or listen to a book, either read in person or on audiobook. And some handicraft projects are very portable too.
Outings are another way to spend the afternoon profitably. You could go to an art museum, a botanical garden, a Shakespeare play, the zoo, the library, an aquarium, the ballet. You could pick berries at a nearby pick-your-own farm. Or visit local businesses that your child might be interested in; for example, visit a local ice cream factory or a local radio station. If your child is interested in car maintenance, take an afternoon to visit a car repair shop. You get the idea. And don’t overlook going to a state park or a national park, if you have one nearby. There are so many possibilities for outings. But remember that afternoons don’t have to be full of constant travel and don’t have to be expensive to be productive. In fact, major outings are probably best as an occasional treat.
These are only some ideas for productive afternoons. Was it 50? I lost count. But don’t worry about that. We have put together more than 200 ideas for productive afternoons. You can download the list free on our website.
Also, I’m sure many of you have other ideas. So I invite you to leave a comment and share one of your family’s ideas for afternoon activities.
Here’s to many, many productive afternoons in our Charlotte Mason home schools!
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I love this idea, and would really like to implement it in my homeschooling, but I’m confused because the schedules contained in “Planning Your Charlotte Mason Education” show work being done well into the afternoon, with some of the schedules not ending until 4:00. I’m not sure how to reconcile the two and would love if you could elaborate on this.
I’d be happy to elaborate. Sorry for the confusion. Charlotte’s time tables started at 9:00 and went through 11:30 or 12:00 or 1:00, depending on the age of the children, without a break for lunch. I assume lunch was eaten after lessons were done.
In the sample schedules in Planning Your Charlotte Mason Education, I include some time for lunch and sometimes some time for chores. If you take those out, you will save some of those seemingly longer hours.
Also, if you look at what is scheduled in the afternoons in the sample schedules, most of it is similar to what is suggested in Productive Afternoons: nature study, handicrafts, reading together at snack time or tea time, projects, free time, personal interests.
Remember that there is no Charlotte Mason police who will arrive on your doorstep if you don’t run your homeschool day the exact same way that Charlotte ran her classroom schedule. Focus on getting those good habits in place—attention and best effort, keep the lessons focused and of appropriate length for the ages of your students, and find the rhythm that will work best for your family to continue to grow and love learning. I hope that some of the Productive Afternoons ideas contribute more opportunities for that growth.
Thank you so much for taking the time to elaborate. Your response was very helpful.
BTW, I chuckled at the “Charlotte Mason police” comment. I need to remember that! 🙂
Do you have any podcasts for advice with Holidays? We’ve got another move coming up at the end of November coupled with the Holiday Season about to kick off and I’m feeling a tad overwhelmed. I’d like for us to enjoy the season yet not throw everything out of the window. If you could help, I would forever be grateful!
I did a Facebook Live last year about 3 Tips to Help Keep the Holidays Happy. You can access the repost of that video. I hope it will be helpful for you!
I love the CM method so far and have been doing my best to carefully implement it over the last two years. However, I’m struggling with one thing. Georgia homeschool law requires 4.5 hours of instructional time. Gasp! Of course, I’m including chores, baking, home keeping, outside time, etc. in our afternoons. To me, that’s instruction, but our academic time is mostly finished by lunch because I only have children in Form I. How to others with time requirements successfully have a Charlotte Mason homeschool? – Shelley
It’s a great question, Shelley. I’ve homeschooled in Georgia for 18 years now, and here’s how I handled it. The law states that we must give “the equivalent of” 4.5 hours of instruction per day. 4.5 hours of instruction in a classroom setting will cover much less than we can do in 4.5 hours of one-on-one instruction at home. So it’s pretty easy to give your child the equivalent of 4.5 hours of instruction in half that time when you have full attention and best effort. And, as you mentioned, all of those productive afternoon activities are instructive in one way or another, since we are committed to educating the whole person. So, yes, count everything you do throughout the day that helps your child to grow in all aspects of personhood.
How do I handle “being done by lunch” with a larger family? We have 5 children that are school age this year + a pre-k who enjoys joining in with activities, also add a toddler + baby to the mix and well… math alone can take 2 hours some days to complete and go over. (That is an extreme day, but hopefully you get the idea.)
Most Days – For some reason it seems like math + enrichment + language arts alone can take all of our mornings, which leaves us to do history + science + literature reading after lunch. And then some days…. We have the best school time after the littles are napping with quiet focused attention.
I really do want to be “done by lunch”, but it seems like the older my kiddos get the longer our school day drags on.
Any tips on how a Mama juggles it all and stills gets done by lunch?
It stands to reason that your days are going to take longer than Charlotte’s classroom schedule, Jamie. She was not doing 5 different math lessons and 5 different language arts lessons each day. That factor alone adds a significant amount of time to your school day. So don’t beat yourself up if you’re not done by noon. (And notice that I never said anyone should be done by noon; I said “lunch.” It depends on when you eat lunch! 😉 But let me encourage you to keep focused on the main principles of scheduling in a CM way: short lessons, full attention, working toward self-education. The important thing is to get those habits in place so your day runs smoothly, rather than allowing the clock to become your master.
I also encourage you to combine your children for as many subjects as possible, as the SCM Curriculum demonstrates. I think you’re already doing this, but I want to mention it for others who may read this note. You can do everything but math and language arts (and upper level sciences) together as a family, and that will save you a lot of time.
But even with Family work for most subjects, adding up the numbers shows that you will most likely need to do some subjects after lunch during this season of life. If you take 30 minutes for history/geography/Bible and 60 minutes for enrichments, there’s 1.5 hours for family work. If you do 20 or 25 minutes of math per child, that brings in another 2 hours approximately. Then add in language arts for 5 children, (of course, that time will vary depending on the age of the child but let’s take an average of 20 minutes) that’s another 2 hours or so. Already you’re at 5.5 hours, assuming no interruptions from messy diapers and unhappy babies. I don’t think you want to start school at 6:30 in the morning just so you can say you’re done by noon. (I know I wouldn’t!) Then you’ll also have science a couple of times per week, nature study once a week, and any extra independent assignments for the older students. So give yourself grace.
Being flexible to work around the little ones’ nap time is a great idea. Create a schedule that will work well for your family during this season of life. Right now I would say to just keep an eye on those habits: make sure the children are not dawdling; enlist the older ones’ help to rotate turns entertaining the little ones as needed; keep lessons short and focused. Then reevaluate your schedule each term to see which child might be ready to take on a little more independent work. But in a situation like this, it’s more important to keep your focus on your children’s habits and growth than on the clock. You’re doing a good job. Keep it up.
Sonya, Thank you so much for taking time to reply back to me. It was encouraging to hear you tell me – Yes, this is a season and yes, teaching 5+ children is going to take some time. I knew it in my heart, but this time I had to convince my head because I wanted those “free afternoons”. We do have some free time in our day, but we just have to be more intentional on finding (and not wasting) these precious chunks of time. ❤️❤️❤️
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